Is your childs school bag too heavy?

As millions of children set out every morning to school, many of them overstuff their packs with heavy books, laptops, clothing, lunch and shoes. Some carry their packs on one shoulder intermittently throughout the day. The long-term result: chronic back and neck pain.

A US safety commission estimated that approx. 6,512 emergency room visits each year are due to book bag related injuries.

Our spine can be viewed as the structural foundation of our body. When in proper balance, our spine, joints, discs and muscles are built to absorb certain amounts of shock and load. When an excessive amount of load is placed on a developing spine, the joints, discs and muscles may be overly stretched and sprained, therefore, directly injuring the spine. Additionally, some studies show that backpacks can alter the fluid contents in the spinal disc, therefore, placing the student at a greater risk for herniated disc and osteoarthritis later in life.

Some causes for backpack pain include the quality of the backpack, incorrect packing, lifting and carrying of the pack. The trend for most teens is to carry a heavy backpack on one shoulder. This places tremendous postural stress on the spine and muscles in the mid to low back, as well as muscle and nerve strain. These postural imbalances can predispose individuals to spinal and joint misalignments (areas of the spine/joints where movement is reduced or restricted; bones are out of their normal alignment).

The following are some tips on Back Pack Ergonomics:


  • Choose a sturdy canvas or nylon light weight pack (not leather)
  • Make sure the pack has many compartments/pockets to evenly distribute the weight
  • Choose a pack with 2 wide padded shoulder straps which are adjustable
  • Choose a pack which has waist/hip straps to help stabilize the load
  • Consider a wheeled book bag


  • The total weight of the filled pack should not exceed 15% of your childs body weight (i.e. An 80 lbs child should not carry more than 12lbs in their backpack
  • Pack only the items that are necessary for that day
  • Evenly distribute the weight amongst the individual compartments/pockets
  • Place the heaviest items close to your childs back (close to center of gravity)
  • Place bulky or pointy items furthest away from the back or spine


  • Repetitive improper lifting of a 10-20lbs backpack can cause muscular and spinal strain (damage)
  • Place the backpack on a table and face the pack
  • With both hands, check the weight of the pack
  • Bend both knees
  • Lift with both legs and arms, not your back
  • Carefully, slip on one shoulder strap at time
  • Adjust shoulder straps to comfort and use the waist/hip strap to stabilize the load


  • ¬†Wear the pack on two shoulders
  • Use padded shoulder straps
  • Adjust straps to fit comfortably and not too loose, otherwise the pack will dangle
  • Use the waist/hip strap
  • The bottom of the pack should sit 2 inches above the waist


  • Only place what is necessary for that day in the backpack
  • Place heavy book/binders in your locker and pick up between classes as needed
  • Most kids with spend approx. 18-22 years in the academic setting carrying backpacks. Consider starting some abdominal strengthening exercises to prevent present and future spinal pain
  • Watch your child as they walk out the front door. If they are hunched too forward or are leaning too far back, this indicates that the pack is too heavy
  • Consider a wheeled book bag for your child
  • Keep in mind that Doctors of Chiropractic are experts in spinal and joint biomechanics. Chiropractors offer spinal checkups, assessments and treatments for children and teens.

If you have any specific question, please feel free to email or call me at (604) 980-4223 or [email protected]